If there is any spiritual discipline that defines this season of Christmas, it is the practice of hospitality. For all our frustrations with the wider culture missing the meaning of what’s going on during these twelve days (and more so during the previous weeks of Advent), the habit of welcoming others into our homes and lives is one thing that has not been lost. That overwhelming hustle and bustle that happened during the last week of Advent is rooted, at least in a certain sense, in the practice of welcome.
Over the past two weeks, most of us have been welcomed into the homes of others and in turn invited them into ours; and together we have heard the story of our God incarnate seeking hospitality but finding none. Instead, he is welcomed by a poor young woman, several animals, and some ragged shepherds. In a few days we will hear the story of his welcome by three wise men and observe the feast of Epiphany, reminding one another to welcome God anew into our lives in whatever way God appears to us.
Often, though, we are so busy “doing” hospitality this season that we have little space to simply “be” hospitality. You know what I mean: that New Year’s Eve when you’re too busy getting ready for your guests to stop and listen to the old lady next door telling you about her frozen poinsettia. It happens to most of us every year. I was surprised, then, when I put out a call for families to host international students for dinner at some point over the Christmas season and came up with more families than students! Over the last couple of weeks I’ve actually had to turn families away, disappointed that there weren’t enough students who signed up for their hospitality over the Christmas break.
These families have given me pause as I celebrate Christmas and move into a new calendar year because each of them is a normal, busy family just like yours or mine. What caused them to not only “do” hospitality during this busy season but to stop and “be” hospitality to the strangers I sent to their doorstep? These are people who have begun to understand that these days of feasting call us to open up our lives, our homes, our hearts; to be hospitality to Christ who comes to us in many forms. “Receive all as you would welcome Christ,” St. Benedict told his disciples some 1400 years ago. “Because in welcoming the least of these, you welcome me,” adds Jesus in Matthew 25.
As we move out of Christmas and into Epiphany, the example of these families forces me to ask how I can better practice the spiritual discipline of welcome in this New Year. How does God show up on my doorstep and how might I invite God in? Are there times when I’m too busy doing hospitality to stop and simply BE hospitality the way Jesus was?